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Matthew D. Nelson

The Color of Civics: Civic Education for a Multiracial Democracy

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Generations of Americans, dating back to the nation's founding, have regarded schools as essential for developing the knowledge and civic values necessary for sustaining democracy. Yet, as Matthew D. Nelsen argues in The Color of Civics, traditional approaches to civic education are not living up to their promise for many students, particularly students of color from disadvantaged communities. How do we prepare an increasingly diverse generation of Americans for full participation in public life?

Drawing on lessons from students and teachers in Chicago,
The Color of Civics reimagines the democratic purpose of civic education. Nelsen's findings challenge some of the most widely cited civic education research, arguing that the content of traditional civic education courses privileges the political experiences of white political actors, and in turn, contributes to divergent political behaviors and participatory outcomes across racial and ethnic groups. He presents a new approach to civic education that aims to foster political empowerment by centering historically-grounded conversations about current events as well as critical categories of knowledge--those that highlight the agency and grassroots political action of marginalized groups. This approach increases rates of intended political participation among young people of color and heightens political empathy among white youth. Nelsen also highlights the agency of teachers in processes of socialization, exploring how their
attitudes and lived experiences drive the implementation of more empowering civic learning environments.

By taking the histories and lived experiences of marginalized communities seriously,
The Color of Civicsasserts that civics courses can become spaces where young people begin to recognize their own agency, develop empathy, and define the terms of their own political participation. Including novel empirical research and an evidence-based analysis, Nelsen provides practical and useful advice for policymakers that cuts through the noise to focus on what works.